Last update: April 12, 2012 08:18:41 AM E-mail Print


Classing of Flock Merino Sheep

GJ Schuurman


LET us pause for a moment to consider what provision nature makes in the way of covering animals.

South African indigenous animals, as represented by various breeds of buck, are very sparsely covered with short hair, sufficient protection in our hot climate. In colder climates, like those of Russia or the Polar regions, we, find the native animals covered with a very long, heavy covering of wool or hair. Merino sheep do best in a warm climate with a comparatively low annual rainfall. What we are striving to do to merino sheep, with the object of filling our pockets, is unnatural arid that is why nature is fighting us every inch. The human brain is trying to keep the wool on the sheep and nature is trying to take it off. It stands to reason that the action of nature is more severe in a dry, hot climate than in a moist, cool one.


Suitable Rams

There is a gradual retrogression in our merino sheep, the degree depending on the climatic conditions, and the only way to fight against this is to use suitable rams.

Far too many sheep farmers do not as yet realise the importance of good rams as a means of building up their flocks. Naturally, classing must go hand in hand with the use of suitable rams, but good rams are more essential. The farmer who wishes to attain success in sheep breeding must have an ideal, that is, a goal. The ideal sheep is one which conforms most readily to climatic conditions and market requirements.


Culls and Drafts

In the actual classing of sheep, there are two terms which we should use more frequently, viz. culls and drafts. By the term cull is meant that an animal is not fit to breed from on account of very pronounced weaknesses. A draft is an animal which the farmer drafts out when he has surplus sheep. A sheep may be drafted out for any of the following reasons :-(1) off type, i.e. not the type of sheep with which the farmer intends to farm or in other words; not the ideal sheep. (2) Too poor a specimen of the type he requires. (3) A sheep not producing the right type of wool. (4) On account of age;

If, after the real culls have been removed, a farmer has 1,000 ewes left, he could draft out 100 or more, according to the number of sheep he wants to keep. In every case, he should draft out those ewes which are farthest away from his ideal, in fact, he could draft 999 ewes from the 1,000 and the one ewe left should be the one nearest to his ideal.



In building up a flock of sheep, the farmer should aim at uniformity. With this end in view, the keeping of two types in a flock must be discouraged. It is better to keep an indifferent specimen of the right type than to keep a good specimen of the wrong type: In other words, if a farmer is aiming at producing a plain bodied type it is far better to keep an inferior plain-bodied sheep than to keep a good specimen of the wrinkly type.


Classing on Condition

Sound judgement is very essential in classing dry sheep in good condition, and lambing ewes which are invariably in poor condition. Many farmers, and even professional classers, will draft out approximately 20 percent of the dry sheep and from 40 to 50 percent of the lambing ewes. The reason is obvious, as the former look far better than the latter and it requires some experience to pick out a bad sheep in good condition, while, on the other hand, a good sheep in poor condition is very often over looked. When in doubt, always give the benefit to the ewe which has reared a lamb, and your percentage of drafts excluding old ewes, should never be greater in the lambing flock as compared with the dry flock. Remember to keep the ewe that breeds annually. In many flocks the percentage, of ewes that lamb is very small and this is due to a large extent, to the fact that a far greater percentage of lambing ewes than dry ewes are drafted out annually. Pay more attention to bad breeders and draft them out.


Classing of Flock Sheep

Classing of flock sheep is a much easier and simpler process than most farmers imagine. The first essential is to know what are real culls and this knowledge can be acquired by any farmer who is keen by attending sheep classing demonstrations on farms or by attending short courses in sheep and wool at the various Schools of Agriculture.

The next procedure, that of drafting out the superfluous sheep is comparatively easy as long as you remember to take out those animals which are the farthest away from your ideal. Aim at uniformity both as regards conformation and covering.


Wool Classing

The majority of farmers have a good idea of what the conformation and constitution of a merino sheep should be. The wool is the part that puzzles them in sheep classing. There is no better way of extending one's knowledge of wool than through wool classing demonstrations; not merely by attending such demonstrations for a day or an hour, but to work with the wool for at least a week. If all farmers would learn how to class their clips and acquire knowledge of wool qualities, good and bad wool, they would all be able to class their own sheep. If all the sheep farmers wanted to have their sheep classed by Government sheep and wool officers, we should require a small army of about 250. A low estimate of breeding sheep (i.e. sheep that should be classed) is from 10 to 12 million and the most the Government sheep and wool officers have been able to class in the past has been 800,000 or 8 percent. Fortunately, there are thousands of farmers quite expert enough to do their own classing and they together with many private sheep and wool experts, class another 30 to 35 percent.


Departmental Aim

Mere classing is not the duty of the Government sheep and wool officer, whose real aim is to increase the percentage of farmers who are capable of classing their awn sheep and wool; farmers who fail to get the services .of a Government sheep and wool officer this year; must understand that it is impossible for the Department to assist everybody who applies.



Farming in South Africa 3